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Bersih’s court victory a triumph for justice

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The High Court decision to dismiss the Putrajaya’s claims for damages against Bersih 2.0’s co-chairpersons, Ambiga and A Samad Said, and 13 other committee members was lauded by civil society groups that champion democracy and justice, observes Henry Loh.

We want clean and fair elections!
We want clean and fair elections!

Ambiga pointed out that the judgement is “a vindication of Bersih and the people’s right to freedom of assembly”. Putrajaya, however, may decide to appeal the High Court decision and, with due respect to the judicial process, the case could then drag on. Hopefully, this will not be necessary.

Bersih’s 2012 rally (which led to the court case) was a massive gathering of concerned citizens that took to the streets to call for free and fair elections. In the rally, the police used tear gas, truncheons and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The call for free and fair elections has been going on for years; unfortunately it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

A key concern is the perceived lack of independence of the Election Commission. The Commission’s recent announcement about the proposed redelineation of state constituencies in Sarawak certainly has not helped to inspire confidence.

Ng Chak Ngoon argues that the proposed redelineation in Sarawak will allow smaller constituencies which constitute Barisan strongholds to be divided into more seats while large constituencies which have traditionally supported the Opposition will be allowed to have even more voters. In essence, this will further diminish the principle of equal value for each vote: the value of the votes in small pro-BN constituencies will clearly be much higher than that of votes in larger pro-opposition constituencies.

It will be a sad day for free and fair elections if the Election Commission were to promote this kind of redelineation in all the states in Malaysia, and it will clearly demonstrate that it is blatantly working to provide an unfair advantage to the ruling coalition. The damage will be far reaching, and concerned citizens must do everything within their power to highlight such unfair practices.

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Since the first general election in 1955, our country has since gone through a dozen other general elections the last of which was held in May 2013. It is clear to many Malaysians that the intense competition to win enough seats to form the federal and state governments is not motivated so much by the altruistic objective of wanting ‘to serve the rakyat’; rather the much sought after prize is the immense control and power that rests with the government of the day.

The stakes in the battle for parliamentary seats are thus higher as power is heavily concentrated in the hands of those who control the federal government. Key decisions on transport, health and education throughout the country are made at the federal level leaving the state governments with little or no influence. A viable proposal being touted is to study the merits of decentralisation.

After the 12th general election in 2008, when five states fell to opposition hands, the BN has no longer enjoyed a monopoly of control over state and local governments.

From that period it has become increasing clear that decentralisation (made necessary because of the overcentralisation of powers at the federal level) is an important way to deepen democracy and promote good governance.

Incidentally, Good Governance and Democracy was the theme of the first writers workshop in a series of four organised by Aliran with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. The response from young budding writers at the first three workshops has been most encouraging. Several of the participants have contributed articles related to the respective themes of workshops. Aliran has since uploaded some of these articles; we highlight a few below for your reading pleasure.

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Yasmin Bathamanathan reflects critically on whether the government is using taxpayers’ money efficiently by looking at the large budget allocated to the Women’s Ministry and the efficacy of some of the programmes being proposed to help reduce the gender gap. With grave concern, Yasmin asks, “does the training of 125 potential women directors require millions of ringgit?”

Another participant, Chiok Phaik Fern, inspired by a Zunar cartoon, wrote about how some laws in the country are being used, misused and abused to stifle democracy, rational dialogue and debate and the freedom of expression. She is concerned that the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Universities and University Colleges Act are often used by the powers that be to control dissent and maintain control. The author urges all of us to stand up for our rights.

Meanwhile, Sharon Ling, reviews what is the ‘expected role’ of elected representative, the Yang Berhormat, popularly referred to as YBs. In many countries, elected representatives are expected to contribute to policy making and the formation of laws by actively participating in active debate and discourse over substantive issues that affect the rakyat. In contrast, YBs in Malaysia are expected to respond to emergencies such as clogged drains and uncollected rubbish. In her article she offers several reasons for this current relationship that exist between YBs and their electorate.

Anand Raj Markandu, makes a case for bipartisanship in Malaysian politics. He is encouraged that a few politicians from both sides of the political divide are able to rise above party politics and work together for the benefit of the nation. He hopes to see a government that is issue-driven and not party-driven. Of course, this requires our politicians to mature significantly.

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Finally, Vince Tan wonders if the day will come when YBs are allowed to vote according to their conscience on certain issues instead of being forced to toe the party line and take instructions from the party whip. Is it merely wishful thinking on his part or will our country mature as a true democracy that values voting by conscience on certain important and substantive issues?

These are just a sample of articles by youth who attended the Aliran Young Writers Workshops. For more examples, please go here.

The fourth and last workshop will be held on 14-15 February, this time in Ipoh, bearing the theme Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups. Check out the poster above. If you are 18-35 years old and are interested, please go here for more information and register online here.

We are inspired and gratified to know there are many young people out there who are deeply concerned about what is happening in our country. Even more important, they are prepared to express their thoughts and ideas in writing and thus invite positive and constructive discourse.

Our future lies in the youth, and if many more come forward then it will no longer be a farfetched dream for Malaysia to mature as a thriving democracy that genuinely promotes freedom, justice and solidarity.

In solidarity

Henry Loh

Co-editor, Aliran e-newsletter

3 February 2015

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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